How many of you grew up knowing the expression "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me?" Have any of you ever repeated that to your own children? Do you really believe that words can never hurt someone?
Another young teen committed suicide over the weekend. Why? Because he had been bullied. Oh, not with being hit or jabbed or shoved into lockers or ignored or having his books and papers stolen or ruined. No, these bullies used words to hurt him. He was overweight, too heavy to run or play sports. He was a diabetic, so he had to give himself insulin shots during the school day. He wore braces and spoke sometimes with a lisp.
He was bullied with words. 'Hey Fatso,' 'lispy wispy,' 'shot jock,' and...I'll leave it to your imagination. I wonder if his parents ever told him that old saying...Sticks and stones can break my bones, but WORDS can never hurt me.
Excuse me? Words can never hurt? Words can sear like a bad burn; words can cut to the quick like a knife thrust; words can penetrate the heart like a bullet...and...words can kill. Words stay with you forever. Sometimes they can be buried in the subconscious, but they're there, nevertheless. And the more hurtful those words were, the shorter the time for them to stay buried. They begin to grow and to fester...along with the hurt...until the wound becomes so infected it has to be cured. And sometimes, the more vulnerable the person is, sometimes the only cure is death.
The teen who died over the weekend is not the first nor will he be the last to die because of words...words deliberately thrown at him or her to create a lasting hurt.
Recently, I read an interview with an author of a middle grade book...her first. ( No, who she is and the name of the book is not important.) She said that the main reason this particular book was published was because her editor admired the sarcastic, snarky wit, and it appealed to him. But then she added that she had not realized the book was sarcastic, that was not the voice she had intended.
Hmm...how do you write a story with a sarcastic, snarky voice and not know it? Sarcasm is not something that everyone can do in their writing. It's not something that everyone is even comfortable with in talking in conversations. But she was unaware that the words she was using created a sarcastic voice to the story.
Think about that...she was unaware. Can that apply to the rest of us in our writing? Do we get so involved with our story, our plot, our characters, that we are unaware of the voice we are creating? Are there words, phrases perhaps, that we use so often we neglect to think about their meaning, or how others reading those words could interpret them? Do we put words into the mouths of our characters whose meaning could be interpreted in ways other than what our characters do?
I'm not saying characters should never be snarky or sarcastic. I'm not saying that the voice we create should never be either of those. I AM saying that we should be aware of the words we put into our characters' mouths, of the voice our overall story has, and be aware of the fact that words and intonations can always be interpreted in different ways. Be AWARE that the voice we intended to create with the words we used is actually the one we created.
Words can kill. Perhaps that old saying should be reworded to: Sticks and stones can break my bones, but WORDS can kill me.
I don't know about you, but from now on, I'm going to be very careful about the words I use...in talking, and most of all, in writing.
Until next time,
that's a wrap.